Here’s a sample from “The Warmth of Midwinter,” a story set in my SAGE world, published in last year’s GIFTS OF THE MAGI midwinter holiday collection.
What Would It Have Hurt?
excerpt from “The Warmth of Midwinter”
by Marian Allen
The young Sword had thawed enough to peel off his filthy, sodden uniform and had washed in water warmed near the fire. Andrin had given him the cloths to wrap his feet and legs and the nightshirt to cover the rest of him. Now they sat facing one another at the table, sharing the food provided by Andrin’s cooking pot.
“I think you know who I am,” said Andrin mildly, resisting the urge to say more. Do you see how I’ve fallen? Are you happy? Are you proud? What will you and your fellows do to me, now that you know where to find me?
The boy, his mouth full of Andrin’s food, nodded. His bloodshot eyes held a hint of wariness but more of unpleasant humor.
“We took bets on how far you could pull that cart,” he said. “Looks like I came closest. My guess was the middle of Fiddlewood River.”
“And yet,” said Andrin, before he could stop the words, “you’re the one who fell in.”
The boy stopped with his hand halfway to his mouth, face flushed, neck corded with remembered contention.
“All I wanted was a kiss and a cuddle,” he said. “It would have all been over in a moment. Or two. Everybody kisses and cuddles on Wintermoon Night.”
“Was that last night?” Andrin, being a Waymaster, and a Royal Waymaster, at that, had long since ceased celebrating the full moon halfway between the beginning of Winter and the beginning of Spring.
“It was.” The young Sword picked up the last morsel of his bread and crumbled it. “What would it have hurt?”
“She refused? You insisted? She still refused? You insisted harder?”
The young man shifted in his place. “What would it have hurt?”
“A man doesn’t force his will on a woman. Or has Landry altered a thousand years of practice in these few short years of his reign?”
“A Sword can do what he wants! I am a Sword!” The boy thumped his chest, the blow making a rather limp sound as it landed against cloth instead of the leather armor he was clearly accustomed to thumping.
“And she pushed you into the Fiddlewood?”
“No! Her brute of a husband did.”
Andrin rose and went to the corner for his broom, hiding the vindictive laughter he knew was in his face. He could picture the drunken swaggerer, the outraged woman, the protective husband, the pinwheeling fool, the icy splash.
“They might have killed me,” the Sword said. “I might have drowned. Or frozen.”
“Perhaps they thought you could swim,” said Andrin. “Everybody along the Fiddlewood can swim. It wouldn’t have occurred to them you couldn’t.”
“Well, I can’t! Never thought I’d need to.”
“I understand,” said Andrin. “I never thought I’d need to pull a cart.”